Tag Archives: dance music

SPLENDID DANCE MUSIC: “CE BIGUINE,” CHARLIE HALLORAN AND FRIENDS

You know the ancient joke, where someone asks, “Do you want a book for your birthday?” and the response is, politely, “No, thank you, I already have a book”? Had you asked me, “Would you like a CD with ten songs, none of them known to you, in a genre that you aren’t familiar with, performed by a group with only three musicians people you know (or know of)?” it would have been very easy to pretend to be busy cleaning up the kitchen and ignore the question.

But oh! would I have deprived myself of immense pleasures because of suspicious narrow provincialism.

The evidence is here: Charlie Halloran‘s new CD, devoted to music that isn’t officially “jazz” but that swings irresistibly down new paths.  Charlie’s summary is worth quoting in its entirety: Excited to release my new album of Caribbean music! Recorded straight to 78 rpm acetate disc, 1950s era biguines to liven up a cocktail party. Bottoms up!

And here you can enjoy the rhythms and sounds of this CD.

Charlie Halloran, 2017. Photograph by Jeffrey Dupuis.

I knew Charlie as a splendid trombonist and bandleader — this is his first CD as a leader.  So, without even hearing this CD, I wanted a copy because I have faith in Charlie as an intuitively gratifying creator of music.  And when I learned that the music had been recorded to 78 rpm acetate discs at Twerk Thomson’s studio, I knew it would be special.  (Here is the lowdown on Mr. T.)  The disc turns out to be a wonderfully rewarding travelogue and time machine: taking me places both musical and emotional that are very pleasing: hotel bar in the Caribbean, say, seventy years ago, as one of the people commenting on the disc has said.

I don’t know anything about the vernacular music of Martinique; I don’t know the names of the dances the songs inspire; I’ve never had a Planter’s Punch, and I certainly don’t even want to type the song list — so I hereby disqualify myself from any pseudo-informed comment.  But I assure you I’ve been wiggling in my computer chair, and if I had someone who was interested in wiggling on a more lavish scale, I wouldn’t be typing now, as this frolicsome music plays.  And I will say that someone interested in the multi-cultural roots of New Orleans music will find much to notice, study, and love here.

This post is shorter than usual not because of a lack of enthusiasm — no, quite the reverse! — but because I’d rather people hear the music than spend time reading my words.

Aside from Charlie (trampagne — his preferred spelling — and instigator), the musicians are Tomas Majcherski, clarinet; Zayd Sifri, percussion; Pete Olynciw, string bass; Doug Garrison and Robin Rappuzi, drums; Tom McDermott and Shaye Cohn, piano; Max Bein-Kahn, guitar; Todd Burdick, banjo.

It’s a wonderful disc, full of pleasures.  And for me, who sometimes feels hemmed in by similar repertoire, it is refreshing and inspiring.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFULLY PLAYED, WITH NOT A HOT SOLO IN SIGHT (1931)

A portrait of Eddie Lang, inscribed to Leo McConville. Courtesy of the McConville Archives.

I come from the generation of listeners who waited for the hot solo in the midst of what we were taught (by the communal listeners’ culture) was dull by comparison.  And some of those solos were frankly electrifying. Here is a memorable example:

The caricature of such listeners is the people who wore out the Bix solo on the Whiteman SWEET SUE but left the rest of the record’s surface black and gleaming.

But I have come to see how limiting that was.  Consider this 1931 recording of a sweet pop song.  It’s a Ben Selvin group, with a vocal by the demurely named Paul Small.  This record (and the other side, WHAT IS IT?) finds no mention in a jazz discography, yet it is very satisfying music.  For one thing, it is beautifully played — great dance music, wonderful strains to be holding one’s love, whether any apologies have been tendered or received in the recent past.

The other reason is the deliciously subtle but pervasive guitar of Salvatore Massaro, “Eddie Lang” to the rest of us — who begins the side with an instantly recognizable introduction, and is audible behind the vocal and uplifting throughout.

And they say men don’t know how to apologize.  What wonderful music, what danceable tenderness.

May your happiness increase!

AT THE INTERSECTION OF ART AND COMMERCE: TAFT JORDAN AND THE MOB (February 21-22, 1935)

TAFT

A nice bio of trumpeter / vocalist Taft Jordan is available here, which is also the source for the photograph.

TAFT Night Wind Banner

In February 1935, “Taft Jordan And The Mob” — Taft, trumpet; Ward Silloway, trombone; Johnny Mince, clarinet; Elmer “Tone” Williams [not “Skippy” Williams as listed in Tom Lord — thanks to Mark Cantor], tenor saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Bobby Johnson, guitar; John Kirby, string bass; Eddie Dougherty, drums — recorded four memorable sides that have never gotten the attention they deserve.  (Incidentally, the beautiful record labels are illustrations only: the music can be found in the videos below.)  

TAFT MOB label

The idea was John Hammond’s, and one that we are grateful for.  The usual story is that Hammond worked hard to get the music he loved on record, to make opportunities for racially mixed bands.  He succeeded beautifully: most readers know this part of the story as preface to the 1933-42 Billie Holiday sides.

But other parts of the story deserve attention.  There is, for one thing, the success of the coin-operated phonograph (later, the “jukebox”) that could offer people recorded music in restaurants, bars, and elsewhere for what seems to us like a bargain: a nickel would get you three minutes of new music.  But a 1935 nickel was much more than the ninety-nine cents per song that iTunes charges.  (A contemporary advertisement shows Easter dresses for $1.95, and a skilled worker for the W.P.A. might earn $79 a month.)

And, at the time, commercially produced records were — as it says on the label — “not licensed for radio broadcast.”  I think that coin-operated phonographs served the audience’s desire for novelty (“Let’s hear that new record of ______ by Erin Morris and her Ponies!”) — songs from new movies, new songs popularized by much loved bands and singers . . . and for five cents, one could have a side played for a gathering of listeners and/or dancers.  The record labels pictured above are now called “dime-store,” because one could  buy these records inexpensively at, say, Woolworth’s.

Radio and recordings created a need for new material, so many songs, not all memorable, were published, with a clear financial relationship between composers / lyricists, publishing companies, artists, recording supervisors, and record companies.  (A small example: IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN was written by Bernard Hanighen, Billie Holiday’s friend, also a recording director at Brunswick Records.  He would have been happy — aesthetically and financially — to have his song recorded.)

Taft’s four sides run parallel to other small groups led by Fats Waller, Henry Red Allen, Bob Howard, Putney Dandridge, Stuff Smith, Adrian Rollini, Tempo King, Cleo Brown, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Frank Froeba, Bernard Addison, Louis “King”Garcia, Stew Pletcher, and others.  I’ve heard writers say these sessions were “cranked out for the jukebox trade,” but these records are lovely, imperishable.  That there were only four sides says more about an audience’s awareness of Taft as a star than about their quality.  Some listeners might have known him from the Savoy Ballroom and radio, but not many.  When the records were later reissued in the UK (the red-and-gold Vocalion issues) Teddy Wilson had become famous enough so that his name would sell discs.

The artists made little or nothing for these sessions: they were paid “scale,” although they were pleased to make the extra money.   The math is fascinating, a quiet recital of economic disparity, even at the remove of eight decades.  Let us say a band of eight musicians made four sides for $50 a musician.  The records were pressed, distributed, and ended up in the phonographs.  One could hear a side once — no limit on the number of hearers, theoretically — for a nickel. The machine could take in twenty nickels in an hour.  In 1935, the profit went to the record companies and the owners of the phonographs. Later (too late, perhaps) musicians and composers received royalties, but that is another story.

Yes, mechanical reproduction of art guarantees “exposure,” but one cannot eat exposure.  I am aware of this from both sides as an interloper with a video camera who can only recompense musicians in insubstantial ways.

I offer these notions, some of them quite sad or infuriating, as preface to wonderful music, and also to point out that an unstable, often exploitative relationship between the artists, “the marketplace,” technology, and lasting art is not a twenty-first century issue.

TAFT Vocalion Devil

What good songs these “disposable” pop tunes are — thanks to Rothberg, Coots, Alex Hill (yes!), and Hanighen.  And the players, professionals all, were used to sight-reading and creating instant arrangements — with split choruses, riffs, backgrounds.  To take one example, LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE, still recognizable, is a series of thirty-two and sixteen bar solos with rhythm (and what a rhythm section!) with a jammed ensemble ending.  How fine it sounds now.  One could spend an afternoon listening to the glowing epigrams Wilson dispenses, the variety of timbres the horns offer, solo and in ensemble.

In my collecting history, these four sides were part of a Columbia Chick Webb lp compilation — glorious gap-fillers, but also logical because of Taft’s role in the band.  Mince and Silloway were with Tommy Dorsey; Skippy Williams, Bobby Johnson, and John Kirby with Webb also; Eddie Dougherty a busy free-lancer. Wilson had not yet joined the Goodman orchestra as a member of the Trio and Quartet, but had recorded with BG in ad-hoc studio groups.

What we have here — each side is less than three minutes long — is both superior dance music and small-band swing of the highest order, pleasing to all audiences.

In my time-travel fantasy, I would like to be a silent onlooker at one of these sessions, but I doubt the musicians romanticized such work.  It was another way to pay the rent, perhaps (for the lucky sideman) to get some recognition for future leader’s gigs . . . or perhaps, after creating four quiet masterpieces, the guys went out for a drink or some ribs, a nap before the night’s work.  If I’d asked Taft about these sides in 1972 /3 and later — I didn’t see him at close range — I wonder what would he have said.

LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE:

NIGHT WIND:

DEVIL IN THE MOON:

IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN:

All four of these songs were also recorded “with vocal chorus” by Taft, a charming Louis-influenced singer (consider his work with the Washboard Rhythm Kings and Webb) but none of the vocals was issued.  Mysterious.  I know there is an alternate take of NIGHT WIND issued on a Jerry Valburn collectors’ compilation, but it’s instrumental.

TAFT Vocalion Green

Does anyone know more about Eddie Dougherty than is published in John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO IN JAZZ?  I have learned that he recorded between 1933 and 1952 or a little later, that he lived in Brooklyn, and, according to Johnny Williams via Mike Burgevin, that he pronounced his last name as if spelled Dockerty.  But no more.

The music remains.  And I, for one, am truly grateful for that.

Taft as a member of the Ellington orchestra. Photograph by Charlie Mihn, courtesy of Chuck Slate.

Taft as a member of the Ellington orchestra. Photograph by Charlie Mihn, courtesy of Chuck Slate.

As a postscript, here are four contemporaneous versions of DEVIL IN THE MOON — in honor of the Blessed Alex Hill.  I think they are all beautiful, so this is not to make insidious comparisons.

Leo Reisman:

Mills Blue Rhythm Band (with an incendiary Buster Bailey interlude that the expert dancers must have loved):

Benny Goodman:

Art Tatum:

May your happiness increase!

ALIVE AND SWINGING: EMILY ASHER’S GARDEN PARTY: “MEET ME IN THE MORNING”

EMILY ASHER MORNING

It’s taken me a few months to write anything about Emily Asher’s Garden Party’s first full-length CD, but it’s taken me that long to wrest the disc out of the CD players — car, home, and office.  The cover artwork by Jocelyn Curry is a lovely evocative introduction to the music within — full of beautiful surprises that quickly seem friendly and welcoming.

I’ve admired Emily as a trombonist / singer / arranger / composer for some time.  I first encountered her as an eager and skilled young player who came by for the second set at The Ear Inn to happily swell the ranks — and I first captured her on video at the very start of 2011 — a joyous jam session here. I wouldn’t call myself an early adopter of new technology, but I caught a young version of Emily’s band, the Garden Party, at Radegast Bierhalle in September 2011: the energetic experience comes through here.  When the Party released a mini-CD Hoagy Carmichael tribute, CARNIVAL OF JOY, the disc was aptly titled.

More recently, I caught the band at a January 2014 San Francisco house party here and here.  I know this barrage of hyperlinks may seem to some a prelude to Emily’s retirement dinner (which is far off in the future) but I simply want to suggest — as they say in certain urban areas, “We go ‘way back.  We have history.”

History, however, is not always the only offering of the Garden Party.  Yes, they can swing out on WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP in fine New Orleans style, and the band’s knowledge of traditional and swing genres includes not only the familiar (ROYAL GARDEN BLUES) but the by-now-slightly-exotic (EMPEROR NORTON’S HUNCH).  The Garden Party, however, is more than a band of youngbloods playing old favorites.  And their new disc does have TULIP, BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLING, MEMPHIS IN JUNE, and the little-known WALK IT OFF (recorded by Carmichael in 1946) — but the remaining five titles are originals by Emily or by the band.

Ordinarily, “originals” make me slightly nervous, because some of the greatest improvisers do their improvising on frameworks written by others.  But these originals have substance; they aren’t endless musings on existential dread, nor are they contrefacts, thin creations over someone else’s chord changes.  In the first minutes of this disc (the opening track is called OPEN INVITATION TO A RAINSTORM, which should suggest something about Emily’s generous and quirky imagination): we hear Emily’s solo voice backed by a sympathetic rubato rhythm section; the song moves into time with a calypso exposition of the chorus, alternating with a rocking 4 / 4 time — then the band plays an instrumental chorus (beautifully arranged) punctuated with drum-break comments . . . a piano modulation takes us into a group vocal chorus alternating with Emily sweet exuberant / thoughtful voice, and the performance ends with a joyous “last eight bars.”

I won’t delineate the other nine tracks in this fashion, but MEET ME IN THE MORNING is a delightful tonic as well as a delightful corrective to some more tired (although “modern”) jazz conventions — the apparently endless string of solos over a rhythm section, the idea that modernity means turning one’s back on sentiment and swing.  The music heard on this disc (or on live gigs) benefits from a deep study of what has come before, but it is not weighed down by pure intellectualism.

Rather, the Garden Party knows and embodies what it is like to have fun with music — to Play without being goofy, to entertain a crowd, real or imagined.  They do not disdain their audience, and their pleasure at making melody and swing comes through the little plastic artifact. And they are not jazz snobs — there’s a country waltz on this disc, and Emily’s version of a Fifties soul hit (that starts with a scratchy-78 version of the verse) . . . amusing and convincing evocations of a wide range of fulfilling music — each track a small pleasing present to unwrap more than once.

Emily’s bands have always had first-rate players and singers who seemed to blossom because of the warmth and light she herself brings to the music, but this version of her Garden Party is special.  I will leave the adjectives to you, but here are the facts: Emily, trombone, vocals, composition, arrangements; Mike Davis, trumpet, fluegelhorn, cornet, arrangements, vocals; Tom Abbott, clarinet, alto saxophone; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Nick Russo, banjo, guitar; Sean Cronin, string bass, composition, arrangements; Rob Adkins, string bass, arrangements; Jay Lepley, drums, arrangements, vocals.  Nice recorded sound and fine notes from the Dipper himself, Ricky Riccardi.

If you follow the Garden Party (on either coast and sometimes in the middle), you’ve already purchased a copy of this CD.  If not, it’s an open invitation to joy. Details here.

May your happiness increase!

HIS WESTERN SWING (Marty Grosz / Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All Stars, August 15, 2014)

Marty Grosz, a citizen of the world who has spent much of his time in the eastern United States, visited California for nearly two weeks in August 2014.  I’ve documented some of his musical activities, especially a glorious afternoon at Cafe Divine with Leon Oakley and Craig Ventresco here and here, but the Grosz Tour also touched down on Friday, August 15, at the nexus of Hot, Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, to play some with Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All Stars: Clint, string bass / vocal; J Hansen, drums; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Leon Oakley, cornet; Robert Young, soprano saxophone; Jim Klippert, trombone.

Here are three highlights of that session.

A 1936 song we associate with Louis, Red Allen, and Wingy Manone: ON TREASURE ISLAND:

A nineteenth-century favorite that I heard in childhood, both in a lewd parody and in the Louis / Mills Brothers disc, IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE:

And a classic song to send the dancers home in a romantic haze — here performed at a groovy dance tempo with a heartfelt sing-along that almost took off, I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

Thank you, Marty, and the gentlemen of the ensemble.

May your happiness increase!